Introduction, and The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop, Part 1

Welcome to Tales From the Apocalypse Shift.  This is the official site where you can find all the supplemental stories related to the Apocalypse Shift universe.  I will be posting new content here every week.  The stories here will range widely from tales about the main characters from the Apocalypse Shift novel, to the side characters, to stories that simply take place in the same universe and offer clues to the greater story arc.  If you are at all unfamiliar with the Apocalypse Shift, you can purchase the novel at Amazon.

For the first week I’ll be posting the very first Apocalypse Shift story, which was originally published at Revolution SF, and will soon be appearing in the upcoming Permuted Press anthology Best New Tales of the Apocalypse.  It’ll be appearing in three parts.  For anyone who has never read anything to do with the Apocalypse Shift, this will be a perfect primer.  Future stories, however, will be mostly original content that will be unique to this site.

Thank you for reading!

-Derek J. Goodman

 The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop, Part 1

Hour One

Caleb had gotten into the habit of taking out the garbage within the first hour of his shift, although that was just an excuse to go out behind the store. The assistant manager always left before sundown and the manager wouldn’t be in until just before Caleb left, so there was no one to question him other than Gloria, and she never had a problem with what he did.  The management would frown on the knowledge that illicit transactions went on in the back alley after sunset, especially if they knew one of the employees was involved.  They never stuck around for the graveyard shift, so they wouldn’t understand why Caleb needed to do this.  It was a different world at night, and they would never let themselves know that.  Gloria, however, knew damn well that Caleb’s transactions helped the night run smoother, and when she could she chipped in a few bucks so Caleb wasn’t paying for it all by himself.

The back alley behind the OneStop Mart had a smell different from any other place in the city, especially at this time of year when the temperature didn’t drop below eighty all night.  Some of the smells were not unique, and Caleb was sure those smells could be found anywhere in the city’s rougher sections, especially here on the Hill.  The odor of rancid, sun-baked garbage and fermenting piss assailed his nostrils, but there was one smell that overpowered it all, an old, familiar smell that Caleb had come to enjoy, even look forward to.  It was the smell of incense, old and musty.  It was the smell of One-Eyed Bobby.

Caleb threw the not-so-full garbage bags into the dumpster and waited.  The sodium lights along the store’s back wall cast just enough light for Caleb to see a shadow protruding from the other side of the dumpster.

“Caleb, you dumbass,” a voice said.  “You just going to stand there waiting to be mugged or you going to come around and say hi?”

Caleb stepped around to the other side.  One-Eyed Bobby sat there cross-legged, his dingy, baggy clothes hiding all but the most basic body shape and his sunglasses hiding empty eye sockets.

“You know, there’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you,” Caleb said.  “Why the hell do they call you One-Eyed Bobby if you don’t have any eyes?”

“There’s more than one way of seeing, my friend.”

“I knew you would respond with something cheesy like that.”

“Then why’d you ask, dipshit?  I can be all mysterious and clichéd if I damn well want.  Do you want a reading or not?”

Caleb pulled out a ten and handed it to him.  “Let’s just start with a customer overview.”  One-Eyed Bobby’s hand disappeared into the folds of his clothes and came out with a deck of Tarot cards.  Actually, it might have started out its life as a deck of Tarot cards, but several cards had gone missing over the years and Bobby had seen fit to replace them with playing cards, the kind with pictures of naked women on them, and Pokemon cards.  Bobby gave the cards a shuffle, then pulled several cards out at random and laid them down before him: the ten of swords, the six of breasts, the fool, and Jigglypuff.

“Uh, doesn’t look like a very good night for you, my friend,” Bobby said.  Caleb silently waved an experimental hand between One-Eyed Bobby’s face and the cards, and Bobby slapped the hand away.  “Knock it off, asshole.  Do you want to hear this or not?”

Caleb nodded, then, when Bobby didn’t make any show that he’d seen it in any way, he answered aloud.  “Sorry.  Go on.”

“As I was saying, looks like you’ll have vampires, werewolves, heroes, and even an Elder God.  And that doesn’t even look like the half of it.”

“Crap,” Caleb said.  “Why can’t I ever just have a quiet night, huh?”  He pulled out another ten and gave it to Bobby.  “Better give me an hour by hour overview.”

Bobby swept the first four cards aside, then drew eight more, explaining each as he set it down.  “In hour one you’ll get some bad news.”  Bobby smiled.  “That would probably be me.  In hour two several of your customers will be eaten.  In hour three you will receive valuable information.  In hour four an old acquaintance will stop by and annoy the ever-loving piss out of you.  In hour five there will be a mild Cthulhu-related disturbance, nothing to get in a tizzy over.  In hour six there’ll be a fight, but not the sort you’re used to.  In hour seven you will mourn.  In hour eight…”  Bobby stopped and leaned close to the last card as though inspecting it for flaws.  “Aw hell.”

Caleb knew that reaction well.  “Oh, come on.  Please don’t say what I think you’re going to say.”

 Bobby shrugged.  “Sorry, friend, but in the eighth hour the world will end.”

“Shit!” Caleb said.  “You’ve got to be kidding me!  Tell me you’re kidding me.”

“You know I don’t joke about my readings.”

“But this is the fourth apocalypse I’ve had to deal with in the last two months.  Just how many times do the gods expect me to save the world, anyway?”  Caleb gave a wordless cry of frustration, then took a deep breath.  “Fine.  Can you at least give me a heads up on how it’s going to happen?”

One-Eyed Bobby pulled three more cards and laid them across the last card drawn, then frowned.  “Sorry, I don’t see any specifics.  All I can tell you is that it is directly related to two of the other events.  That’s all the cards tell me.”  Bobby’s dour expression disappeared and he smiled up at Caleb.  “Don’t look so pissed.  It’s not like this isn’t something you haven’t handled before.  I have faith in you.”

“Gee, thanks, I feel soooo much better.”

“You better get going,” Bobby said.  “You got a busy night ahead of you.”

“Right,” Caleb said.  He started back towards the propped-open rear door, then paused and turned back to Bobby.  “Hey man, I was just wondering one more thing…”

One-Eyed Bobby and his cards were gone.

“Dickhead,” Caleb mumbled, then went back inside.

Hour Two

“Again?” Gloria said.  Her voice was loud enough to make several of the customers in line jump.  But that was only the non-regulars, mundies who were new to this area or were just passing through without realizing what section of the city they were in.  The two regulars in line, Caleb noted, were trying to hold back from laughing.  Oh yeah, Caleb thought, the apocalypse is really funny when you’re not the one who has to stop it.

“How is this even possible?” Gloria asked as she rang up a customer’s purchases.  “This is, like, the fourth one in…”

“In two months.  Yeah, I know.”  The line had started to back up while Caleb told her what Bobby had said, so he took his place at his register and called for the next in line, a mundy.  Caleb scanned her Slim Jims while she gave both the cashiers a funny look.  Once the customer left Gloria managed to give Caleb a feeble smile. 

“We probably shouldn’t talk about this in front of the customers,” she said.  “One of the mundies might think we’re crazy.”

“Of course we’re crazy,” Caleb said.  “We work here, don’t we?”  Nonetheless, Caleb stopped talking for the moment.  The regular customers were used to this sort of thing.  There was even a This-Is-The-Day-The-World-Ends party every other Friday at the Club McPhisto down the street.  But the mundies, those who were blissfully ignorant of the goings-on of the Hill, were probably better off not knowing this could be the last night of their lives.

There were, however, only three customers in the store at the moment, all of them regulars.  The next guy in line, a short, grubby little man who was always trying to sell Caleb stolen goods like radios, bikes, or the still-beating hearts of virgins, came up to the register with a stale doughnut.  “Wait a sec,” he said.  “Did you say something about customers being eaten?”

“In hour two,” Caleb said.  At once the remaining three customers looked at the clock on the wall.  Eleven o’six.

It took Caleb fifteen minutes to clean up the mess the customers made in their hasty retreat out the door.  All their intended purchases had been dropped on the floor, spilling cans of soda, crushing bags of pretzels underfoot, and squirting the custard filling from doughnuts onto the displays.  Gloria stayed behind the counter and did the cigarette inventory while Caleb mopped it all up. 

“Might as well just mop the whole floor right now,” Gloria said.  “Doesn’t sound like we’re going to have time to later.”

“All right, lets just think about all this for a moment,” Caleb said as he slopped water onto the floor.  “What supplies did you bring tonight?”

“Only the basic stuff.”  She went into the back room and came out with her duffle bag, which she set on the counter and unzipped.  She held several of its contents up for him to see: wooden stakes, silver stakes, a few bags of various herbs, a basic spell book, other odds and ends.  “Nothing we can really use to stop the apocalypse.”

“We can’t really be sure of that.  Bobby wasn’t specific on what exactly would happen.”  He stopped mopping for a second and stared at the puddle of water on the floor.  “I hope it’s not another cult trying to suck the world into Hell again.  That one took a lot out of me.”

“No more man-eating toads, either,” Gloria said.  “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat frog legs again after that one.”  She placed the duffel bag under the counter where she could easily reach it, then turned back to the cigarettes.  Caleb watched her for a moment.  He’d been working the graveyard shift (or the Apocalypse Shift, as he had come to call it) at the OneStop Mart for over a year now, but it had taken him time to adjust to the freakish happenings.  Gloria, however, had only been working here for a month, yet took it all in stride.  This had baffled Caleb at first, especially when she’d professed to never before knowing about these sorts of things.  The only explanation he could find was her day job as a stripper.  When you were used to dirty old men leering at you on a regular basis, Caleb supposed zombies and demons and whatnot weren’t so bad.

“Okay,” Gloria said as Caleb started mopping again.  “Way I figure, this time should be easier than the others.”

“And the logic behind this would be…?”

“Normally we have to wait until whatever’s going to cause the Armageddon is breathing down our necks before we can stop it.  But One-Eyed Bobby said it was related to two of the other events he predicted, right?  So all we have to do is stop one of the two events…”

“…and the apocalypse won’t be able to happen.”  Caleb wrung out the mop and wheeled the bucket back to its place.  It was sort of sloppily done, but still better than he usually did.  “We wouldn’t have to wait until the last minute.  Great plan, except one problem.  We don’t know which two events are important.”

“Then we stop whatever we can.  Even if we only stop one, there’s a one in eight chance that it’s the right one.”

“Actually it would be more like a two in seven chance.  You can’t count the apocalypse itself when calculating the…”

“Whatever.  You know what I mean.”

“Right.”  Caleb looked at the clock again.  11:18.  “It’s too late to stop the first event, so on to number two: customers for dinner.”

“That’s simple enough.  Just close the store until twelve.  If we’re not open for business, then no customers.  No customers, no snack time for the beasties.”

“We can’t close the store.  Big Maggie would have our heads.”

“Priorities, man.  End of the world versus ass-chewing.  Besides, how the hell would she even know?  It’s not like she can check the security tape.”

She had a point.  There was a security camera hanging from the ceiling, but no one bothered to load it with videotape anymore because all it ever recorded was a white haze.  A witch who lived nearby and had the ability to vaguely see spirits once told Caleb that it was because something was haunting it.  He’d tried to contact the spirit with a Ouija board, but it hadn’t answered.  It wasn’t until Caleb had accidentally broken open a box of Alpha-Bits in the back room and the little cereal letters had told him to fuck off that he could communicate with it.  The ghost still wouldn’t tell him why the hell it chose to haunt a security camera, but he nonetheless kept an open box of the cereal around just in case he needed to communicate.  He normally avoided that, though, since over half the ghost’s vocabulary consisted of creative names for body parts between the waist and knees.

Caleb emptied the mop water in the back room, then brought his own goody bag out front and double-checked its contents.  There wasn’t much difference between his bag and Gloria’s, except he also had vials of holy water from seven different religions.  It was one of the lesser-known facts about the beasties that religious tools only worked on them if that monster believed in that particular religion.  A cross would only work on a Christian-raised vampire, a pentagram only worked on a vamp who’d been a pagan in life, and so on.  He always made sure his bag was stocked for almost anything.

Caleb set the bag down next to Gloria’s and looked around the empty store.  “You know, something doesn’t seem quite right here.  Shouldn’t the bar crowd be starting to filter in by now?”

“Yeah, I was wondering that, too.  We haven’t had any for, like, the last twenty…” 

She stopped and turned to Caleb, a look of horror on her face.  Caleb’s brow furrowed in confusion for a moment, then he understood.  “Oh crap,” he muttered, then grabbed his duffel bag, ran around the counter, and out the front door with Gloria in tow.

The fluorescent lights just outside the door gave the blood splattered in the parking lot an odd tint, making it appear more greenish than red.  The bodies of the last three customers were tossed in a heap off to the side, each one with gaping holes where their jugulars had once been.  The rest of the parking lot was empty, as were the surrounding sidewalks and streets.  Gloria stepped a little closer to the bodies, careful not to let her Nike knock-offs touch the blood.  She looked at the wounds in their necks, then pulled a stake from her duffel bag and set the bag down.

“Where the hell is everybody?” she asked.  She held her stake at the ready in front of her, but there was no movement anywhere around them.  The vamps that had done this were probably already gone, but Caleb had enough experience to know never to assume anything.

“Somebody must have had a word up that there were vamps in the area,” Caleb said, “and anybody else with half a brain would have seen the empty streets and ducked for cover.”

Gloria wrinkled her nose at the dead bodies.  “You think that’ll be all then?”

“Three bodies feed three vamps.  Unless there’s more than three, they’re probably done for the …”  A single drop of blood fell from above and landed on Gloria’s shoulder.  They both looked up to four sets of fangs leering at them from the roof. 

“Get inside!” Caleb screamed.  Gloria had barely started pushing the door open when the first vamp swung over the edge and slammed into her feet first.  The impact slammed the door open and sent Gloria sailing through with the vamp practically on top of her.  Caleb frantically tried to unzip his duffel bag as two more jumped from the roof and landed five feet from him.  They were both dressed in tattered army surplus clothes and had the unpleasant reek like they hadn’t bathed in a few millennia.  Almost all vamps smelled bad, but these two stank.  The odor was foul enough that Caleb had to step back from it and tripped over the limp arm of one of the customers.  Pain raced up through him as he landed flat on his back.  One of the vamps straddled Caleb’s prone body and stooped down. 

“Where is it?” the vamp asked.  His breath smelled like rotting hamburger, and Caleb had to fight to keep himself from gagging.

“Where’s what?”

“We know you have it.  The blind man told us it would be here tonight.”

“I don’t have the faintest…”

Before Caleb could finish his sentence a wooden stake plowed through the vamp’s chest from behind.  Caleb scooted out from underneath as the vamp turned ashen-gray and started to crumble.  When the vamp was nothing more than dust and dirty clothing, Gloria pulled her stake from the mess and offered Caleb a hand up.

“What about the other vamps?” Caleb asked.

“Second one put up a little bit of a fight, but the first one for some reason turned to dust as soon as it was inside.  I think it actually fell on my stake.  Dumbass.”

“God damn it.  Now I’m going to have to mop the floor again.”

*          *          *

Gloria had to stand at the door with a stake in case the fourth vamp showed back up while Caleb placed the call to emergency services.  He didn’t call 911, though.  This was a job for the other emergency number, the one the neighborhood cops had given him soon after he’d started here.  He’d had to use it sixteen times since then, and every time it seemed like it took the cops more time to arrive.

“If you are calling because you are about to be sacrificed to a demon,” the automated voice droned in his ear, “please press one.”

“So what happened to the other vamp?” Caleb asked Gloria.  “I distinctly remember four sets of sharp, pointy teeth.”

Gloria kept peeking out the glass front door, but with the inside so bright and the outside so dark it couldn’t be easy to see anything.  “Probably bugged off when he saw his compadres buy it.”

“If fairies have turned your head into that of a donkey,” the phone said, “please press three.”

“What were they even doing here?” Caleb asked.  “Most of the beasties know not to come around here unless they’re on our side.”

“Didn’t that one say we had something it wanted?  And it said something about a blind man.  Only one blind man hangs around here that I know of.”

“You think One-Eyed Bobby’s giving advice to the vamps, too?  That dick.  See if I give him cookies for Christmas this year.”

“If you are being attacked by vampires, please press nine.  If you have been turned into a newt, please mash your foot against the keypad and wait.”  Caleb pressed nine and waited as the other end started ringing again.

Gloria opened the door enough to peak her head out.  “I think I see some people coming outside down the street.  Looks like we’ve got the all-clear.”

Another recorded message picked up on the other end of the phone.  “Thank you for calling emergency vampire services.  All our operators are currently busy.  Please hang on, try to stay alive, and someone will be with you shortly.  Thank you.”

Gloria left the door, put her stake down on the counter, and leaned against it with her chin in her palm.  “You’re welcome, by the way.”

Caleb took the phone away from his ear for a moment.  “Excuse me?”

Gloria’s eyes narrowed.  Caleb couldn’t tell if she was genuinely mad or just trying to be mischievous.  “For saving your life.  You forgot to thank me.  Again.”

“Oh come on, you know I appreciate it.  And what do you mean ‘Again’?”  Caleb put the phone back to his ear as someone finally answered.  “Uh, hi.  I need to report a vamp attack at the OneStop Mart on the corner of 13th and Pearl.”

Gloria’s brow furrowed, and this time Caleb was pretty sure it was anger.  “What do you mean ‘What do you mean’?  What about last Tuesday when I saved you from those genetically-altered land-walking piranhas?  You were almost fish flakes.”

“You didn’t save me, you just annoyed them by pelting them with jars of tartar sauce.  They were no big deal, anyway,” Caleb said to her, then talked again into the phone.  “No, no, not you.  I was talking to my coworker.  We’ve got three dead bodies and at least one more vamp on the loose…”  He didn’t even notice that Gloria had stormed off into the back room until he hung up the phone.

Hour Three

The police finally arrived at shortly after twelve.  Special squad officers usually dressed like plain-clothes police, and the normal person on the street wouldn’t have known the difference.  Caleb, however, had learned to distinguish them by the telltale bulges in their clothes from hidden stakes and other odd weapons, as well as the unusual array of religious symbols hanging around their necks.  They questioned Caleb and Gloria, took a few pictures of the bodies and ash piles, and discreetly had the bodies hauled away to somewhere hidden from the mundy police.

Immediately after the cops left, the customers started to filter in.  Gloria took the counter while Caleb hooked up the hose outside and sprayed the blood from the parking lot, then went back in and refilled the mop water.  He glanced casually at Gloria as he went about his business, but she pointedly avoided his gaze.  She hadn’t even talked to him since the argument.  They’d had tiffs on the job before, but for some reason she seemed to be taking this one personally.  If it was because he hadn’t thanked her he might understand a little.  You had to be able to trust a person you worked with on the Apocalypse Shift to have your back, whether it was from unruly customers or flesh-eating corpses.  But in truth the vampire encounter hadn’t been anything he couldn’t have handled himself.  If she wanted to believe she had saved his life, she was wrong.  He couldn’t let this continue for the rest of the night, though.  There was still that teensy matter of The End Of All Things that needed to be addressed. 

Caleb took his time mopping up the remains of the vamps and waited for the line of customers to disappear so he could talk to Gloria, but they just kept coming.  They appeared at the moment to consist mostly of candy-ravers, all with a hazy, dead look in their eyes.  They were either all on something or they were all zombies.  Caleb went up to one at random and poked her in the side.  She didn’t seem to feel it.  Zombies, then.

“Some of the local clubs have been catering to the undead recently,” a voice said from behind Caleb.  “They’ll buy any drug you offer them even though they can’t feel it.  You can tell them that Midol is X and they don’t know any different.”

Caleb knew that voice well enough and turned to it with a half-smile.  At a casual glance the person standing there looked like a woman dressed for a hot night out.  The eye-catching and barely-tasteful dress drew the eye away from signs such as the Adam’s apple or overly large fingers.  Any excess hair at odd places on the woman’s body had been tweezed off, but that would only work for a few more hours.  Tonight was close enough to the full moon that all the hair would be back by morning.

“Harold!” Caleb said, then blushed at the man’s disapproving look.  “I mean Darla.  Sorry.  I’m still getting used to the new you.  I thought maybe I’d see you tonight.”

“What, did that blind fraud say I was coming?”

“Among other things.”  Darla was in here several times a week.  If One-Eyed Bobby was their most important source of information about the neighborhood, then Darla was a close second.  “So what’s going on in the streets?” Caleb asked.

“Actually, I was hoping you could tell me.  Everybody I talk to is freaking, especially when I ask what’s going on at the OneStop.”

“Well, for starters, tonight’s supposed to be the end of the world.”

“Again?  Why the hell does that shit always happen here?”

“Not my fault world-destroying beasties like to stop in for a Twinkie before ending all life as we know it.  There was also a vamp attack about an hour and a half ago.”

Darla’s ears twitched.  “Really?  Were there four of them?  Grubby like they’d been sleeping in a Port-a-Potty?”

“Yeah.  We got all but one.  How’d you know?”

“Word is some vamp leader is looking for some mystic doohickey-whatsitz.  Has his gophers roaming the Hill in packs of four.  If one got away he’s probably still out there waiting to see what you’ll do with it.”

“But we don’t have it.  What the hell is it even supposed to be?”

“Not a clue.”  Darla stopped and grinned.  “There’s something else you should know.  Athena’s in the neighborhood.”

“Shit!” Caleb said loud enough to make Gloria jump.  Even a few of the zombies looked over their shoulders.  “Are you sure?”

“Saw her with my own eyes.  That was about fifteen minutes ago.  Looked like she was on her way this direction.”

“Crap on a stick.  In just how many ways can this night suck?”

Darla bought a Pepsi and went on his way.  Caleb put away the mop and joined Gloria behind the counter.

“We’ve got to hurry up and get these customers out of here,” he said to her.  “If Athena’s on her way we need to close the store, lock the doors, make it look like nobody’s here.”

“I’ve never seen you this nervous before,” Gloria said.  “Who’s Athena?”

“The worst creature on the face of the planet.”

“Really?”  Gloria said, barely able to hide her glee.  “Some sort of demon?”

“Something like that.  There’s no word for what Athena is.  Now are you going to stop chattering and help me take care of the customers, or not?”

Gloria stopped talking and turned away, but not, he noticed, without a quick glare.

To Be Continued

(All content on this site is (c) Derek J. Goodman)


1 Response to “Introduction, and The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop, Part 1”

  1. 1 floridapossum
    October 15, 2009 at 2:10 am

    OMG! That is one of the most awsome things I have ever read. I absolutely love it! As soon as I scrape some money together, I’m gonna buy it. Wow!

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